A businesswoman has insisted the isles would not have a tourism strategy were it not for the support offered by Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
Chairwoman of Shetland Tourism Association Emma Miller has defended HIE following criticism levelled by Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael.
Ms Miller insisted the enterprise agency was providing over half of the association’s running costs for the next two years – support that was crucial for the sector in its recovery.
“I understand and share Mr Carmichael’s concern for ensuring a bright future for the economy of the Highlands and Islands.
“I do, however, think we need to recognise the value that HIE provides to our community as it stands when considering any proposed change to the structure of the organisation.
“HIE have a strong interest and involvement in the tourism sector here in Shetland, funding over 50 per cent of the operating and staffing costs for the Shetland Tourism Association through to 2022.
“Without that funding, and the support and advice that comes with it from local HIE staff, Shetland might not have a tourism strategy just now, or have been able to provide daily support to association members during the Coronavirus crisis.
“The agency does provides digital and business related training, advice and support. Alongside the digital training provided by Business Gateway and opportunities provided by Scottish Enterprise, I think we are very lucky here in Shetland to have such broad support.
“HIE play a pivotal role alongside these other local and national agencies to support business development, and I see a positive future for our business sector with active input from local entrepreneurs.”
She added it was more important to “streamline and properly fund what we have” than starting again with a new agency, which she said was “possibly not the most practical or responsible option”.
“With further cuts to funding in April, I do agree that the Scottish government needs to be reminded that HIE is a positive force for driving innovation and emerging industries in our rural areas.
“If changes are to be made then this needs to afford HIE adequate government support and suitable funding and decision making powers at a local level. We need to take care we don’t duplicate services already provided by others and instead capitalise on what we have.”